Amazing Ice Halo Display

Yesterday, sky watchers around the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, witnessed something amazing: A complex network of luminous arcs and rings surrounded the afternoon sun. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” says eyewitness Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Solar physicist David Hathaway snapped this picture of the display:

Ice halo display during Hurricane Sandy, 2012

Image credit and copyright: David Hathaway/NASA/MSFC

The apparition is almost certainly connected to hurricane Sandy. The core of the storm swept well north of Alabama, but Sandy’s outer bands did pass over the area, leaving behind a thin haze of ice crystals in cirrus clouds. Sunlight shining through the crystals produced an unusually rich variety of ice halos.

“By my count, there are two sun dogs, a 22o halo, a parahelic circle, an upper tangent arc, and a parry arc,” says Chris Brightwell, who also photographed the display. “It was amazing.”

“Very impressive,” agreed onlooker Kyle Winkleman. “This was a once-in-a-decade event for our area.”

If the display really was a result of Sandy, sky watchers might not have to wait a decade for the next show. Some researchers believe that superstorms will become more common in the years ahead as a result of climate change, creating new things both terrible and beautiful to see overhead. Sky watchers in the storm zone should remain alert for the unusual.

From SpaceWeather.com October 31, 2012